Of the Premier League’s top five clubs, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham all strengthened their sides early this summer, while Arsenal and Manchester United waited until the last day. The latter three clubs seemed to have more of a structured transfer strategy, while Arsenal and Manchester United had wasted time bidding for players who were quite unrealistic. The difference? A director of football, also referred to as sporting director or technical director.
Whatever you call it, the job specifications see the director working as a buffer between the manager and the board – more often than not, the manager will identify the targets, and the director will be the one responsible for securing the targets. Michael Emenalo, Txiki Begiristain and Franco Baldini have all done that well for Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham respectively, with Arsenal and United seemingly floundering.
The system was much more popular in other parts of Europe than in England, with Borussia Dortmund’s Michael Zorc a key part of their fantastic journey from near-bankrupcy to the Champions League final. The other finalists, Bayern Munich, appointed Matthias Sammer to succeed Christian Nerlinger as their sporting director, and he helped spur them onto an historic treble.
Dennis Wise had an unsuccessful spell in the role at Newcastle, leading to English scepticism around the role, and now Joe Kinnear has earnt derision for some of his statements a few weeks into the role. However, Arsenal arguably had a sporting director when Arsène Wenger joined: David Dein.
His role was officially as vice-chairman, but he was Arsène Wenger’s partner-in-crime and most trusted ally. It seemed to be that Wenger would identify a player and Dein would go out and do the negotiating, and it worked very well for the Gunners. However, Dein is now 70 and sold his stake in the club to Usmanov, a man who the current Arsenal management fiercely opposes.
Wenger needs a new ally who he trusts to go out and seal deals for players – Ivan Gazidis and Dick Law are currently who he works on transfers with, and both Wenger and Gazidis are outside of their jurisdiction in doing so – Wenger as the manager of the first team should only be involved in identifying targets based on scout recommendations and the club’s needs, whereas Gazidis, as Chief Executive, should mainly be involved on a business level. So who could Arsenal employ as sporting director?
Jorge Valdano – Valencia, Real Madrid
Sporting director at Real Madrid until falling out with Jose Mourinho, Valdano also lead Real Madrid to the Spanish league title in 1994-95 before leaving to manage Valencia. He may have been pushed out of the door at Real Madrid, but that was only because Mourinho wanted more control. If he was working in tandem with a more cooperative manager, Valdano might have been more successful, and these quotes on the beautiful side of football might endear him to Wenger.
Christian Nerlinger – Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich may have decided to replace Nerlinger with Sammer, as mentioned previously, but they decided to effectively replace Luiz Gustavo with Thiago Alcantara, and Arsenal were chasing Gustavo this summer. Bayern, unfortunately, are on a level above Arsenal right now, and someone not good enough for Bayern may well be good enough for the Gunners. He was with Bayern as sporting director, through a period that included a domestic double. He may not have satisfied Bayern, but he’s clearly no slouch.
Tor-Kristian Karlsen – AS Monaco
Having worked as a scout for the likes of Bayer Leverkusen, Hannover and Zenit St Petersburg, Karlsen was later hired by AS Monaco as first Chief Executive and then sporting director. He’s currently available, and recently pondered Arsenal’s apparent lack of interest in Porto’s defensive midfielder Fernando. He’s been writing for the Guardian lately and made good points regarding Arsenal and United’s lack in terms of a sporting director.
Nicky Hammond – Reading
Hammond was linked with the Arsenal job back in May 2007, shortly after David Dein had departed, but a move never materialised. He thrived working on a budget at Reading, but wouldn’t necessarily be out of depth at Arsenal – after all, the main requirements are a good knowledge of football, communication skills and the ability to go and thrash a deal for the manager’s targets.
Gilles Grimandi – Arsenal
Promotion from within has basically been Arsenal’s motto for the last few years, so it wouldn’t be surprised to see French scout Grimandi, formerly a centre-back for the Gunners, stepping up to fill the role. He’s worked with Wenger for years as a player and now a scout, so would be trusted by the manager – probably another key requirement of the job, given how Dein thrived on the relationship he had with Wenger.